World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Isan people

Article Id: WHEBN0018271849
Reproduction Date:

Title: Isan people  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tai peoples, Thailand, Tai–Kadai ethnic groups in Southeast Asia, Isan language, Satsana Phi
Collection: Ethnic Groups in Thailand, Tai Peoples
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Isan people

The Isan people (Thai: คนอีสาน, rtgsKhon Isan, Thai pronunciation: ; Lao: ຄົນອີສານ, or "Northeastern Thai") are an ethno-regional group native to Northeastern Thailand ("Isan") with an estimated population of about 22 million.[1] Like Thais and Laos, they belong to the linguistic family of Tai peoples.

In a broader sense, everyone who comes from the 20 Northeastern provinces of Thailand may be called khon isan. In the narrower sense, the term refers only to the ethnic Lao who make up the majority population in most parts of the region. Following the separation of Isan from the state of Laos, its integration into the Thai nation state and the central government's policy of "Thaification", they have developed a distinct regional identity that differs both from the Laotians of Laos and the Thais of Central Thailand. Alternative terms for this group are T(h)ai Isan,[1][2] Thai-Lao,[3] Lao Isan,[1][4] or Isan Lao.

Almost all inhabitants of Thailand's Northeast are Thai nationals. Yet a majority of them (approximately 80%)[5] are ethnically Lao and speak a variant of the Lao language when at home (the Lao dialects spoken in Northeastern Thailand are summarized as Isan language). At least in the face of outsiders, most of them avoid to identify as "Lao" and prefer to call themselves khon isan.[6]


  • Official status 1
  • Ethnology 2
  • Language 3
  • Migration 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7

Official status

Thailand's policy is not to regard Isan as a separate ethnicity, but officially to consider all Tai groups living in Thailand as part of the Thai people. This has successfully downplayed their Lao kinship and led to the development of a distinct regional Isan identity.[7]


The first Western scholar to identify and study the distinct "ethno-regional" identity of khon isan was the US anthropologist Charles F. Keyes in 1967.[8] He chose to categorise them as a "ethno-regional" group rather than an ethnic minority, given that their "cultural differences have been taken to be characteristic of a particular part of the country rather than of a distinctive people."[9]


About 88% of the people habitually speak the Isan language at home, while 11% say they speak both Isan and Central Thai among themselves, and only 1% speak Central Thai exclusively.[1] "Isan", "Lao" and "Thai" languages form a dialect continuum, in many cases the linguistic varieties do not coincide with the geographical and political boundaries. Defining and differentiating these three "languages" according to objective, linguistic criteria is impossible. The different terms are rather used for political and emotional reasons.[10] In official contexts as well as in school and university classes, only Standard Thai is allowed. There are hardly any mass media publishing or broadcasting in Isan. Many Isan people, especially the younger and well-educated ones as well as those living in towns or outside their native region, master standard Thai on a native or near-native level. Some of them are even shy to speak their original language in public or in presence of Thais from other regions due to the low social prestige. Many Central Thais, but also some Isan speakers, associate Isan language with uneducateness and backwardness. Therefore, many Isan practice diglossia (i.e. Isan in familiar and informal contexts, standard Thai in public and official ones)[11] or code-switching in their everyday lives.[12]


Millions of people have migrated from Isan to the Bangkok agglomeration seeking work and they constitute at least one-fourth of the capital's population.[13][14] About 8,000 from Isan live in Laos on the eastern bank of the Mekong River, which forms much of the border with Thailand. Others have emigrated to Malaysia, Singapore, and western countries such as Australia and the United States.[1]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Grabowsky: The Isan up to its Integration into the Siamese State. In: Regions and National Integration in Thailand. 1995, S. 108.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ ; cited in
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.